James Anderson seems to keep getting better and better.
To take 6-40 from 29 overs in unfriendly conditions on days one and two of a Test match against Sri Lanka in Galle is an outstanding performance in every regard.
It was more than just the wickets he took – it was the accuracy.
For him to be at the top of his game having not bowled properly since August is absolutely remarkable.
You can practise as much as you like in the nets but to actually go out there and bowl like that in a match was outstanding.
He bowled considerably more overs than he will have expected to, and he just bowls ball after ball after ball in the same place. He wears batsmen down.
I spoke to him the other day, and he said with the shorter spells because of the tougher conditions, he would be bowling fewer variations and sticking to the basics, and I thought that was really interesting.
In some ways Anderson’s reputation both helps and harms him. When he comes on to bowl, the batsman can think “oh no, it’s Jimmy Anderson, he has got 600 wickets, he is one of the best bowlers in the world”, so immediately the batsman is in a negative place.
Batsmen are therefore just trying to keep him out, in a cautious frame of mind, and are not likely to take a risk against him, so to be taking wickets is even more difficult.
My favourite wicket was when he had opener Lahiru Thirimanne caught behind for 43 immediately after lunch on day one. He set him up.
He will have been delighted that the brilliant plan to dismiss Niroshan Dickwella worked too.
To have four men in catching positions on the off side, with a deliberate gap where mid-off was, and then suddenly throw one out there and say “go on”… Jack Leach took a very good catch, but Anderson set him up, and executed the plan perfectly.
You could see what he was doing, and you can almost read his mind and see how he is going to do it, but the difference is, he can actually do it.
It is very satisfying when that happens and it is the sort of innovation and imagination that you need when you are bowling somewhere like Galle where it is giving you virtually nothing.
Alastair Cook said on co-commentary that it was one of Anderson’s best five-wicket hauls, and while you can think of more spectacular ones – perhaps at Trent Bridge against New Zealand and Pakistan – it was right up there in terms of utter hard graft and wearing the batsman down.
In Sri Lanka the quick bowlers’ job is to build pressure, by not giving too many runs away, while giving the spinners a rest. Wickets are a bonus really.
Anderson did a double job. He absolutely kept the pressure on, bowling 13 maidens, and those are the sort of numbers that England’s spinners Leach and Dom Bess – who only bowled seven in Sri Lanka’s first innings, and 17 so far in the series – should be looking to emulate because that builds pressure.
You look at all of Anderson’s numbers as a whole picture – the maidens, an economy rate of just 1.38 – and you can see how brilliantly he bowled.
There are five-wicket hauls – you have only got to look at Bess and Leach last week – where you do not bowl that many maidens and there is not the pressure, you just get some wickets.
Anderson got his because he was relentless and ball after ball kept challenging the batsman.
That pressure also transfers to the other end, and allows the bowler at that end to cash in on that maiden, and that is how England bowl in partnerships and what they are going to have to do if they are going to perform well against India in the forthcoming Test series.
They are going to have to get into that situation where you’re bowling as a unit, as a team, and bowling for your mate at the other end.
The problem is, as they have shown in this match, England’s spinners are not creating pressure.
All of the pressure that Stuart Broad built in the first Test, and Anderson in this Test, it has just been too easy for the Sri Lanka batsmen to knock it about at the other end, and that is something England are definitely going to have to work on.